Two Gluten Free Desserts to Please Everyone

By Rachel Sircy

Last month I wrote about how I like to do gluten free meatloaf freezer meals. This time I thought that it would be good to write about a scenario that many gluten free people are familiar with: what to make for dessert when you have people coming to dinner.

So, imagine that you have invited guests for dinner and you really don’t have the time or inclination to cook a big complicated dinner. Of course, you still want to lay out a good spread, but what do you do? Remember, you have your gluten free mini-meatloaves that are in your freezer, just waiting to be defrosted and cooked. These are the mini-meatloaves that I made in that post last month and all I did to them this time was put the freezer bag that they’re in in the sink to defrost for a few hours. These meatloaves hadn’t been in the freezer a terribly long time and since they’re so small, they defrosted quickly. To cook them, just place them in a muffin pan (the muffin tins work like tiny loaf pans to insulate the meatloaf). Or, you can do like I do and arrange them like little meat cookies on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Really, I’ve tried both ways and arranging them on a sheet pan seems to leave them just as moist as the muffin pan, and it’s less mess to clean up later. I top them with a mixture of ketchup, honey and Worcestershire sauce (if you have the Simply…Gluten Free Quickmeals cookbook by Carol Kicinski. They take about 30 minutes to bake.

For sides, you can opt for a salad or green peas. The thing about frozen green peas is that they’re nutritious, delicious, and basically, I put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover and I boil them for only a minute or two until they are heated through. I then strain them and add a pinch of salt or maybe some butter or sometimes nothing at all.

The real bugbear of having a dinner party if you’re gluten free is finding a dessert that suits everyone. If you have to be gluten free, you know what an absolute bummer it is to watch everyone else at a party eating a really fabulous dessert and then being apologetically offered a consolation prize like a packet of Sixlets or something. I know that some people actually like Sixlets, but really? When other people are eating cake? Come on!

Don’t do this to yourself at your own get-together. If you’re going to spend time and energy on one thing at your own party, make it dessert. And, for those of us who really don’t like to spend a whole lot of time and energy and who just don’t have a whole lot of money to spend, here are two crowd-pleasers that are super cheap to make and not that difficult. All of the ingredients you would need to make these desserts are things that you probably already have in your pantry: peanut butter, cocoa powder, eggs, milk, cornstarch, etc. There are no fancy or expensive ingredients that you need to buy, which makes them perfect for those of us who are gluten free and on a tight budget.

  1. Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies:

Okay, so after writing that post about allergy bullying, I do want to point out that those of us with a gluten intolerance should be especially mindful of anyone with a food allergy or intolerance. I mean, we know how it feels, so we should go out of our way to make sure our guests are safe and comfortable. Don’t serve this if you’re not sure if anyone you’ve invited over has an allergy. Alternately, you could try to make this recipe with soy butter or sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter. I have not tried either of those options, but I assume they would work as long as they’re the same consistency as the peanut butter.

All that being said, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like these cookies.

This recipe is one I’ve shared before. I think that years ago I got it off of the Gluten Free Girl website, but my mom said that this was the first cookie she ever made in Home Ec class in seventh grade. So, you probably have this recipe somewhere in your recipe catalog at home or you’ve made it before:

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1 Cup Peanut Butter (or allergy free alternative)

1 Cup Granulated Sugar

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 Egg

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the peanut butter and the sugar with an electric hand mixer. Beat in the baking powder, thoroughly. Beat in the egg. Roll the dough into balls using a teaspoon to measure (these cookies are better when they’re small). Roll in more granulated sugar (optional) and place on a cookie sheet about two inches apart. Press down on each cookie with the tines of a fork to make a crisscross pattern.

Bake for 10 minutes and remove cookie sheets from oven. Let cookies rest on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then move to a plate or cooling rack. Try not to eat every single one.

  1. Homemade (Chocolate) Pudding:

Homemade pudding is an easily adaptable recipe that you can really wow people with. I think that – at least among the people I know who are my age – homemade pudding means that you opened the box of pudding mix yourself and added the cold milk. But pudding made from scratch is one of the best things you’ll ever eat. Two summers ago, my mom took some old bananas that she thought she should use or trash and made some banana pudding that was so good we ate it all straight out of the saucepan before it even had a chance to cool.

Pudding is also a pretty allergy friendly dessert and it lends itself to the idea of a bar.  You can easily set up a pudding bar by laying out crushed gluten free cookies, whipped cream, chocolate chips, etc. And the homemade stuff tends to be so rich that a little goes a long way.

My favorite recipe for Chocolate Pudding is Tyler Florence’s. This is me making it here:

You can find the chocolate pudding recipe on the Food Network Website here: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/chocolate-pudding-recipe-1947756

 

Meatloaf Freezer Meal

By Rachel Sircy

I don’t know about you, but for me, meatloaf is a comfort food. My grandmother made a meatloaf that was delicious the day of and that made the best meatloaf sandwiches the next day. So, meatloaf is pretty close to my heart. It’s also a great freezer meal.

I was raised to believe that the freezer should be considered part of your pantry. My mother has a freezer attached to her fridge, and she also has two stand-alone freezers and a deep freezer. Since my parents purchase a whole side of beef every year from some of our family friends who raise cattle (a side of beef is an entire half of a cow, BTW) they need a lot of space. My mom is also the queen of freezing stuff. If you tell my mom that you’re hungry, she’s got a dozen meals prepared and frozen somewhere in her house, so you’ll probably be told to go and get something out of the freezer and reheat it.  I utilize the tiny freezer that I have to store vegetables, fruits, gluten free bread crumbs, meat…you name it. I guess it’s in my genes.

Freezer meals are becoming increasingly popular these days. I haven’t yet braved the 40 meals in 4 hours challenge, but I do keep individual servings of soup in the fridge for last minute meals. Just pull them out and thaw in the microwave (it may take a while if the soup’s completely frozen, but much faster than making it from scratch). Soup is easy enough and very convenient if you don’t feel like cooking, or if you’ve forgotten to make something for lunch, but I wanted to try my hand at prepping a meal and keeping it in the freezer for when I’m ready to make it. Not only is meatloaf one of my favorite comfort foods, but it’s extremely easy to make any meatloaf recipe you have gluten free. Basically, the main ingredient that you need to substitute is the bread or cracker crumbs. Of course, if you use steak sauce, Worcestershire or ketchup, etc., you need to make sure it’s gluten free. Beware, I just read that many major brands of steak sauce are not strictly gluten free. Just be careful and always do some research if you’re not sure. Other than that, most of the ingredients used to make meatloaf are naturally gluten free: ground meat, eggs, onions, garlic, etc.

Now, because I don’t want to deal with a huge frozen chunk of meat which will take a long time to thaw, I decided to make mini-meatloaves. I thought that larger than a meatball and smaller than a baseball would be a good size. Each one would be roughly equivalent to a thick slice of a regular meatloaf. In order to figure out the freezing process I, of course, called my mom. She said to freeze the mini-meatloaves properly, they need to be placed on a cookie sheet and placed in the freezer to firm up. They don’t need to fully freeze on the cookie sheet, they just need to become solid enough so that they won’t break apart when you put them into a freezer bag for storage. She said that about an hour would do it. Here they are on the cookie sheet:

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They should make for an easy dinner when they thaw. And here’s the inside of my freezer:

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It’s tiny, but it works for me. I placed the cookie sheet on top of a tower of individually frozen soup containers. Here’s the process of freezing the soup:

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Really, if you haven’t tried freezing meals for later, you really should. It makes for a very easy (and cheap) pre-made meal. I’ll let everyone know how my meatloaves turn out in my next post!

Kitchen Essentials

By Rhonda Woods

Hello!  I just want to take a moment to thank the Lexington Medical Center team for the beautiful video they produced for my initial blog.  I was so pleased and heard so many wonderful comments from so many viewers!  My “Sweet Husband” would be so proud of his “Bride”!

My next blog is about Kitchen Essentials.  Here is a list of smallwares I find the most useful in my kitchens, both commercial and home. This list can also serve as a wish list, because Christmas is right around the corner.  Yeah, I’ve got you covered, foodies!  I made a large plastic tote box full of baking essentials for my daughter, one Christmas.  She still has it and has added to her collection as well.

Food Thermometer (digital or bi-metallic)
Strainers, large and small (large can double as a sifter)
Bowl scrapers (I can never have enough)
Whisks (same as above)
Digital Food Scale (@ $20.00, battery operated)
Sheet pans-aluminum/stainless steel (heavier gauge or weight does not warp and last longer)
Heavy Aluminum foil
Plastic Wrap
Parchment Paper & Waxed Paper
Disposable Decorating bags OR Gallon Freezer bags
Zester
Vegetable Peeler
Dough/Pastry Cutter
Rolling pin
Set of biscuit cutters
Portion scoops (1 oz., 2 oz. & 4 oz.-make quick work for portioning cookie dough and muffin batters)
Electric mixer (counter or hand held-I love my “Big Red” Kitchenaid)
A sharp Chef and paring knife
Dry measuring cups (2-3 sets)
Measuring spoons (2-3 sets)
Food processor
Cutting boards, plastic-not wood, large & small
Mixing bowls
Cupcake pans (2)
9″ x 13″ pans
8″ cake pans (3 or more)
Off-set spatulas
Aprons (I collect them, cookbooks and magnets from my travels)

Can you tell I’m a smallwares collector…you should see my kitchen drawers and cabinets…just saying. We call them “Tools of the Trade!”

IMG_2877Here’s a picture of my “Sweet Husband” and me taken in front of the old truck he had when we first met.  It has since been lowered from the 4-wheel drive lift and repainted to cover the light blue color, named “Old Blue”  We now refer to it as “Old Blue-Green”, and it still roams the back roads of Green Swamp with a new generation of riders and hunters. 39745152_272914836856988_2960821067972608000_n

It’s hard to believe it has been almost eight months, and it does not get any easier.  Celebrating my “Big 6-0” in a couple of weeks just won’t be the same without hearing him say, “Yeah, you don’t look bad for 60!”  😇

May God bless you and your family,

Chef Woods

Tips and Advice for Gluten Free Beginners

By Rachel Sircy           

There are so many reasons for going gluten free. Of course, I mostly mention celiac disease because that is the reason that I have to be gluten free. However, there is a whole spectrum of gluten sensitivity that individuals can fall on. I also know of people who have a medical need to reduce inflammation in their bodies and for this reason they need to go gluten free.

Because there is a spectrum, there are all kinds of levels of gluten free living. I am at the extreme end of that spectrum and need to be completely gluten free all of the time. I cannot have food that has touched food with gluten in it, but there are many others who don’t need to be as careful. My advice will, of course, tend to be toward the extreme end of gluten free living, but I think it will still be helpful no matter where you are on the spectrum, or even if you are just trying to cut back on gluten. You can always include some gluten free ideas in your regular repertoire.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I was referred to a registered dietician to work out a plan to start a gluten free diet. What she told me is that when trying something new, it’s best not to totally re-invent the wheel. This was excellent advice because just walking into the natural foods store with the intention of overhauling your whole eating routine at once can be completely overwhelming. So, the best thing you can do is to focus for a while on some naturally gluten free recipes. The great thing is that with a few modifications, either by leaving something out or my adding some ingredients that you may already have on hand, you can make almost any recipe gluten free.

Here are two examples, one is naturally gluten free and one is something that you can modify to make gluten free:

Mediterranean Tuna Salad (Naturally gluten free)

Ingredients:

2   6.5oz cans of water-packed tuna, drained

1   15oz can of white beans, rinsed and drained (cannellini beans work best)

¼ cup finely chopped green onion

1 ½ cups diced cucumber

4 cups chopped baby spinach leaves

3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 TBS Dijon Mustard (check the label, but most mustard should be gluten free. Grainy or smooth Dijon work equally well)

3 TBS Freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 TBS Capers (Optional)

Avocado chunks (Optional)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir in olive oil, mustard and lemon juice. Season with pepper and add capers and avocado chunks, if desired.

 

Potato Soup (Modified to be gluten free)

Ingredients

5 cups unpeeled red potato chunks, large dice

1 cup green onions, thinly sliced

½ tsp black pepper

1 TBS salt

1 generous TBS of butter

½ cup milk

Combine potatoes chunks, onions, salt and pepper and just barely cover with water. Boil until potatoes are tender. Add the butter and cook 5 more minutes. Add milk and cook 2-3 minutes more

**This recipe for potato soup is one that I modified from a traditional potato soup recipe that used flour to thicken the broth. At first, I tried things like rice flour and cornstarch to thicken the broth, but I disliked both of those. Finally, I decided to completely leave out the thickener. The result is that you have a potato soup with large chunks of potato and a thin, flavorful broth. My husband – who doesn’t even have to be gluten free – ended up liking the thin broth version so much that I’ve never tried to use another thickener. If you have a recipe that you would like to try, but it has one or two troubling ingredients, you can always experiment with leaving that ingredient out. You may find that you actually like the recipe better without it. And, I’ve modified many recipes that call for farrow, barley or couscous with either rice or quinoa and they’ve turned out just fine.

 

So, when in doubt, try a recipe that uses naturally gluten free ingredients, like the tuna salad, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try to substitute simple ingredients or leave them out!

Autumn Chicken Salad

This month, we are introducing our new bloggers not only with their posts, but with a video!

Meet Rhonda:

By Rhonda Woods

I am the Chef/Instructor for the Pelion High School Culinary Arts program.  This is my 18th year of teaching Level One and Level Two students in grades 10-12.

I began compiling recipes of my Chef Woods Facebook page when I accompanied my late “sweet husband” to his doctor appointments and chemo treatments.  He lost his short 18 month battle with Metatastic Melanoma Cancer.  I thank God for healing him and taking him home, but miss him greatly.

Cooking is and has been my stress relief.  I now get to teach others my passion for cooking…and especially baking.  So, let begin with a favorite of our faculty and staff, Autumn Chicken Salad!

Tips:

  1. Mise en place, a French term that means to “put in place”, or have all of your ingredients washed, prepped, measured or weighed and all tools. This helps prepare the recipe quickly…kinda like a food network show!
  2. Use a sharp knife for cutting. A dull knife is less safe because it takes more pressure to use than a sharp one.
  3. A food processor with a “pulse” button is your friend. Makes quick work on chopping and give you the control over how much chopping needed to be done rather than just using the “on” button.
  4. Chicken salad is highly perishable, also know as TCS food. Foods that require minimum time in the temperature range from 41 degrees F-70 degrees F. Six hours total without refrigeration, but the internal temp cannot exceed 70 degrees F.
  1. Chicken salad has a refrigerated shelf life of 7 days, counting the day it was made.

 

Ingredients

1 lb. cooked, diced white meat chicken

1 hard boiled egg

1/4 c. Onion (@1/4 of a small onion) cut into large chunks

2 ribs celery, washed and cut into large chunks

1/4 of a Granny Smith Apple, small diced

1/4 c. Dried cranberries, rehydrating is optional (just soak in some hot water to plump up, the drain)

1/4 c. Sliced almonds

1 t salt or lite salt

1/4 t. Ground or coarse black pepper

1/2 c. Light Duke’s mayonnaise

1/2 c. Light Daisy sour cream

Directions:

  1. In the food processor bowl with a blade attachment, pulse the chicken @ 6-8 times and remove to a non-reactive bowl.
  2. Pulse the onion and celery to the same consistency as the chicken and remove.
  3. Pulse the hard boiled egg 3-4 times and remove.
  4. Combine the chopped chicken, vegetable and egg mixture with the remaining ingredients.
  5. Adjust the consistency with additional mayonnaise and sour cream, and flavor with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  7. Serve with crackers, bread or on a bed of salad greens.

 

Eight tips to make family favorites healthier

By Mary Pat Baldauf
If you’re trying to cook healthier for your family, you don’t have to abandon their favorites or resort to tasteless tofu. There are many ways you can make your recipes healthier without dramatically changing the taste. Try these tips on for size:

  1. Decrease the fat: Cut back on the amount of oil, shortening or butter in a recipe by half the amount listed. Instead of cream or half-and-half, try one percent milk or skim milk. Low-fat and fat-free options are also available.
  2. Love the taste of real butter? Try butter flavored olive oil, available at most stores that specialize in premium olive oil, such as The Crescent Olive or The Classy Cruet. It’s not only healthier than other oils, it’s also delicious; I like to spritz it on air-popped popcorn for a treat.olive-oil-968657_1920
  3. Cut the cheese: I love cheese, so this always sounds so wrong to me, but you can usually reduce the amount of cheese in a recipe by up to half without significantly altering the taste. Strong flavored cheeses like sharp cheddar and parmesan are the best to try to cut back. Reduced-fat cheese varieties also are an option.
  4. Lower the salt: My sister-roommate has issues with salt, so I’m always trying to lower the salt in recipes. You can add flavor with citrus juices, vinegars, garlic, onion or pepper. Check your no-salt seasoning blends such as Dash. Also look for lower-sodium versions of your pantry staples, such as soups, sauces and such.
  5. Reduce the added sugar: You often can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half to one-third. You can also try using a sugar substitute suitable for cooking or make a subtle half and half mix. Spices like cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg may also enhance the sweetness in a recipe and allow for less sugar.
  6. Get creative with fruits and veggies: Use pureed fruit, such as applesauce, in place of some of the butter or oil in a baked recipe. I learned how to use pureed vegetables to add flavor and nutrients to foods via my grandmother, who pureed celery for her Thanksgiving stuffing.  The Sneaky Chef series of books by Missy Chase Lupine also serves as a great source of information.
  7. Explore different cooking methods for veggies. Do you usually fry vegetables? zucchini-2340977_1920Try roasting squash, sweet potatoes, onions and zucchini for a tasty side dish. Steaming is a healthy and quick option, too. There are also many varieties of “veggie noodles” at local grocery stores; I personally like the zucchini noodles. You can also make your own with a spiralizer.
  8. Go for whole grain: Whole grains are a rich source of fiber and contain an assortment of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Use whole grains of cereals, breads and pasta in place of “regular” versions. Just remember to check the first ingredient on packaged foods for “whole grain.” When I first tried whole grain pasta, I didn’t like it one bit; now I can’t eat “regular” pasta because it’s so mushy in comparison.

 

 

Back to Basics

By Rachel Sircy

I’ve written many articles about cooking at home, but I’m going to write another one. Home cooking is an important topic for anyone wanting to go organic or gluten free on a budget. Actually, it’s an especially important topic for celiacs these days. According to a recent study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Jack Syage and his research team found that adult celiacs who were following a gluten free diet and still experiencing symptoms of celiac disease, had been exposed to 150mg to 400mg of gluten per day. Only 10mg per day is safe for a person with celiac disease, but of course 0mg is preferable!
The thing is, gluten is hidden in so many things, it’s easy to forget or get sloppy with our eating habits. Unfortunately, any sloppiness in our diet means that we are doing damage to our bodies. Gluten is hidden in so many sauces, food additives (who wants food additives anyway?), and it comes with so many sneaky names : dextrin, maltodextrin, Brewer’s yeast, malt, malt flavoring, etc., that I’m sure that I accidentally get some contamination without even knowing it. The other issue is that not everything that is labeled gluten free really is gluten free. It’s not good enough for a celiac to purchase something that says, “contains no gluten” or “no gluten ingredients used.” The ingredients of a product may be gluten free, but it also matters how the product was processed, how it was shipped and how it has been handled in the store.
Most of the gluten hidden in our diet is going to come from processed foods. If you’re new to celiac disease, or if you are still experiencing symptoms, follow this advice that a registered dietician gave me years ago when I was first diagnosed: Make simple meals. What does this mean? It means if you don’t know what else to cook, make a crockpot roast with potatoes and carrots. You need a meat, a vegetable or two and some source of starch. You don’t need to worry about purchasing processed foods. Trust me, after 10 years of gluten free living, finding out which processed foods are safe to eat – even when shopping in a health food store – still makes my head spin. So, the best thing that you can do is avoid them. Buy plain raw meats and cook them yourself. Buy plain raw vegetables and cook them yourself. Potatoes, rice and beans all work well as starches and if you purchase the beans and rice plain and dried, not only are they gluten free, but they are super cheap. This simpler way of eating (meat, veg and a natural starch) will save you SO MUCH MONEY if you are a celiac. Gluten free noodles, cake mixes, cookies, etc. are insanely expensive anyway. If you’re still sick after going gluten free or if you need to be gluten free and you’re on a tight budget, simple meal planning is the way to go.
Of course, you might be saying, that cooking every single day is exhausting and too time consuming. Here’s the thing, if you want to cook like you’re going to be the next Food Network Star, then yes, it will take you quite a bit of time. I know, because I’ve made the mistake of trying to cook that way when I worked full time. Cooking was a burden to me, then, not a joy. It’s become more fun the more I’ve had to do it. But people, we live in a world full of crockpots and my co-worker has recently been raving about how much she loves her new Insta-pot. It’s so easy to throw meat and vegetables into a crockpot and let it do all the hard work for you. We also live in a world full of microwaves. If you enjoy cooking but only have time on weekends, then cook your meals and freeze them to be reheated later. This is actually a really economical way to plan meals. The freezer is your friend. This is my freezer:
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The individual containers in my fridge are full of soup that I made one day when I had the time. I let the soup cool slightly and then froze it in individual meal size containers. When I don’t know what to take to work for lunch, I’ve got these containers of soup that I can just grab and throw in my lunch bag. They reheat in about 3-6 minutes in the microwave (about the same time as a processed frozen meal). I also have freezer bags containing individual servings of cooked ground beef for tacos. My husband is the only one in our house who really likes it, so what we did on Saturday was to cook 2lbs of ground beef with a homemade taco seasoning and then he decided how much he would eat with a meal and he froze that amount (about 1 cup, I think) in each of these freezer bags.
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Actually, if you’re wondering what might be a great simple meal that isn’t roast and potatoes, tacos are great. Many brands of soft corn taco shells are gluten free. I do recommend that you choose a brand that has an ingredient list that is short and that you can completely read (try to avoid anything with huge, difficult to read words which are probably chemicals and which may contain gluten). Many hard corn shells are gluten free as well, but be careful, these are usually more processed and therefore contain the potential for contamination. Most of the other ingredients for home-made tacos are naturally gluten free: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese (natural cheese, not processed! Processed cheese is likely to contain gluten), sour cream. Also, many brands of refried beans are gluten free. I go for the fat free beans, which keeps the ingredients list simple – usually just beans, water and salt. Make sure that you can read and understand all of the ingredients on the salsa that you choose, some have preservatives which may not be gluten free.
Below is the recipe for some home-made taco seasoning that is gluten free. It may seem like a long list, but it’s well worth making. I think it tastes better than a lot of packaged taco seasoning, and this recipe makes 6 tablespoons which will last a while since you only use 2 tablespoons per pound of ground beef. I also use 2TBS to season my home-made chili.
Taco Seasoning
Ingredients:
2 TBS Onion Powder
2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 TBS Salt
1 TBS Chili Powder
1 ½ tsp Crushed Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 ½ tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Dried Oregano Leaves
1 ½ tsp Cornstarch
1 tsp Sugar

Method:
Place all ingredients in a tightly sealed container and shake until well mixed.
Makes 6 TBS of seasoning. Use 2 TBS per 1Lb of ground beef for tacos. Use to taste to season chili.

Happy Eating.